Harry was waiting with crossed arms when Hermione finally tumbled out of the Floo in Professor McGonagall’s personal rooms.
“Well?” he demanded, when Hermione didn’t immediately offer up an explanation for her few seconds of delay and instead began brushing the soot off her shirt. “Did he say something to you? Did you say something to him?”
Hermione looked up, blinking innocently. “To whom?”
Harry scowled. “Malfoy, obviously!”
“Why would I have said anything to him?”
“Because – well.” Harry made a random gesture, looking suddenly uncertain. “It took you a bit to come through. I thought…maybe…” He glanced at Ron for help, and Ron sighed.
“He did say something, yeah?” he asked Hermione. “I thought I heard him call Harry’s name.”
“It wasn’t anything,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “He only said to be careful.”
Harry perked up, but Ron didn’t seem to buy it. “Be careful,” he repeated skeptically. “Malfoy said that. Really.”
“…Well, he would have,” Hermione said shiftily. “But I spoke first. Anyway, is that really important right now? We’re supposed to be looking for a Horcrux.” She paused, and then abruptly narrowed her eyes at Harry. “Also, I have a bone to pick with you, mister.”
“Me?” Harry blinked. “What did I do?”
“You told Ron before you told me that you and Draco had–”
“Oi, he didn’t tell me anything!” Ron interrupted, and at the same time Harry blurted out, “OKAY, so – Horcruxes! Horcrux. Singular. That one that needs finding.” He was already headed for the nearest door, not bothering to wait for the other two to catch up, and he could feel his face burning. “We should do that. Right now.”
Hermione huffed and followed after him. “I’m just not sure you would have told me at all–”
“Hermione,” Ron groaned. “Let the man alone, would you?”
“Oh fine,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “But don’t come to me expecting any advice, then.”
“As if there was any chance of that ever happening anyway,” Harry said under his breath. He navigated his way through McGonagall’s rooms cautiously, pausing when he reached the door he was pretty sure would lead out into Hogwarts. Fully intending to erase the entire last minute of conversation from his mind and pretend as though it had never happened, Harry hesitated for just a moment until he felt his face had returned to a color that less matched a tomato before he turned to the other two again.
“Should we check the Chamber of Secrets first, get it over with?” he asked, as he pulled out the Marauder’s Map. “We’ll have to summon some brooms, I think, to help us get – Hermione, what is that look on your face?” Harry took half a step back, eyeing Hermione’s sudden smile warily.
“It’s nothing,” Hermione said, though her grin didn’t fade. “Only…I’m really happy for you, Harry. I want you to know that.”
“Er – thanks?” Harry said bewilderedly. He glanced at Ron, who shrugged, and then back to Hermione, who then quite suddenly flung herself forward and threw her arms around Harry’s shoulders. “Hermione – what–?”
“It’s an important step in a relationship!” Hermione said into Harry’s neck, and Harry’s face flamed up all over again. “You and Draco–”
“Oh my God,” Harry said loudly, arms held stiffly at his sides while Hermione continued to hug him. “Seriously, can we not? Please?”
“Your first time,” Hermione continued, paying exactly zero attention to what Harry was saying, and he promptly let out choked sound as his voice went high-pitched and wonky.
“Exactly what is it you think we did?” he demanded. “I didn’t – it wasn’t my first time, I’m not some blushing virgin, Hermione, for the love of – for fuck’s sake, Ron, stop looking like that every time it comes up!” Harry finally willed his arms into action and scrambled out of Hermione’s grasp, keeping his hands on her shoulders to hold her away in case she tried to lunge at him again. “I can never tell if you’re going to hurl a Bludger at me or start vomiting slugs again!”
“I’m sorry,” Ron exclaimed, crossing his arms tightly over his chest and looking away. “You try having a younger sister get felt up by random blokes; I don’t like thinking about it!”
“So don’t!” Harry said. “And I’m hardly random, thank you, and you.” He glared at Hermione. “Whatever Draco and I did or will do in the future or – whatever, I may or may not tell you about it and I certainly don’t need any help. I’m not completely hopeless, you know!”
“Right,” Hermione said, nodding and looking earnest. “Of course you’re right, Harry, forgive me. I won’t say another word about it.” She mimed pulling a zipper across her lips, and Harry could only roll his eyes and turn his attention back to the map.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he muttered, jabbing his wand at it. The familiar lines of Hogwarts bled out across the parchment and he studied it for a moment, trying to get a feel for where everyone was.
Next to him, Hermione shifted her weight. “So…what did you two–?”
“Coast is clear,” Harry said, giving Hermione a flat look and ignoring her question entirely. She huffed and seemed to only just barely refrain from sticking her tongue out at him.
Ron opened the door and edged out into the hallway outside McGonagall’s rooms. “Do you think if we just Accio some brooms like you did in the Triwizard Tournament, it’ll work? If we concentrate on the ones in the broomshed…”
“No need,” said Hermione, stepping up beside him. She patted her bag. “I have rope.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “You want us to climb out?” He shared a look with Ron. “You weren’t there last time, maybe you don’t know – Hermione, it’s a really long, steep tunnel.”
Hermione gave an exasperated little sigh. “It’s enchanted rope, Harry. It’ll pull us out on its own.”
“Really?” Ron asked, and Hermione nodded. “Brilliant! You’re brilliant, you know that?” he said, and then leaned over to kiss Hermione on the cheek. She went light pink and smiled a bit.
“It was a simple spell,” she said, but Ron shook his head.
“Brilliant,” he said again. “You always are.”
Harry looked away from the two of them, feeling something in his gut clench in a weird way. He wondered absently what Draco was doing. “Come on,” he said, shaking the thought away and starting to head down the hall. “Time to get moving.”
* * *
“Stupid usually means dangerous, yeah?” Longbottom asked. He was standing by the couch, watching as Draco paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d really rather not. Harry specifically said–”
“Harry is not the boss of me,” Draco interrupted distractedly. “And he hasn’t been listening to me anyway. He’d never go for this.”
“Probably a good sign that we shouldn’t be doing it, then,” Longbottom muttered. “…Not that we are going to do it. Because we’re not. Because Harry asked me to watch you because apparently he knew that this is exactly what you would do.”
Draco paused in his pacing and sent Longbottom a dark look. “Are you really going to try to stop me?”
“Yes. No.” Longbottom fidgeted restlessly. “Maybe if you’d actually tell me what the bloody hell you’re thinking…”
“I’m still working it out,” Draco said.
Longbottom looked thoroughly unimpressed. “We’re going to do something stupid but you don’t even know what it is yet?”
Draco scowled. “I know what it is! I’m working on how we’re going to do it!”
“Uh-huh,” Longbottom said. Draco ignored him and resumed his pacing, and Longbottom resumed watching him for a few more moments before letting out an exasperated sigh. “Look, mate, you’ve got to give me something here.”
Draco paused again, and then crossed his arms and turned to face Longbottom. “We’re going to rescue those students who’ve disappeared.”
Longbottom blinked. “You know where they are?”
“I know where I think they are.” Longbottom looked dubious again, so Draco plowed on before he could speak. “Alright, look. Basically we’re going to Gryffindor our way in, snatch them, and get back here – or somewhere, they can’t come here, Fidelius Charm and all – hopefully without getting spotted in the process! Or killed. You know.”
“Gryffindor our way in?” Longbottom repeated, disbelief tinting his tone. He cast about for an appropriate response, something along the lines of: Are you completely insane? Or perhaps a resounding: Hell no! Absolutely not. I refuse. Instead, his mouth betrayed him and what he ended up with was: “Well. You’re already doing that wrong if you’re thinking about it.”
Draco lifted his chin and stuck his nose in the air. “It’s going to be a complex blend of Slytherin and Gryffindor, thank you. Because I don’t fancy dying straight away when some lone Death Eater minion spots us, so we have to have some kind of strategy, but also – well, my inner Slytherin is horrified with the mere thought of gate-crashing Voldemort’s evil lair.” He spread his hands. “Thus, Gryffindor.” The look on his face said that he clearly expected Longbottom to agree with and even be impressed by this logic.
Of course, that wasn’t the case.
“You’re mad,” Longbottom said faintly, his face pale. “Completely barking. Gate-crash You-Know-Who’s – how do you even know where that is? You can’t possibly – oh.” Longbottom blinked. “Oh. You think – what with your dad – no. Malfoy, no, we’re not–”
“Yes,” Draco drew himself up self-importantly, “we are.”
“It’s going to happen. We’re going–”
“Please don’t say it.”
“–to Malfoy Manor!” Draco proclaimed.
“You said it,” Longbottom said weakly, and then he shook his head. “No.” He plopped himself back down onto the couch and stubbornly crossed his arms. “No, no, no. Why would they be there? That’d be far too–”
“Obvious, right?” Draco interrupted eagerly.
Longbottom paused, his brow furrowed, and then he shook his head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“You just said it was obvious!”
“You said it was obvious.”
“Details,” Draco said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “They have to be at the manor. You know my father’s involved with the kidnappings! Why is he at Hogwarts otherwise? The Dark Lord put him there for a reason!”
“Yes, to teach,” Longbottom said, and then instantly looked like he regretted it because that in and of itself was a ridiculous notion. He groaned and dropped his head forward into his hands, while Draco proceeded to look far too pleased with himself. “I really don’t want to do this.”
“Oh, man up, Longbottom,” Draco said, as he headed for the stairs that led up to the bedrooms. “Or Gryffindor up, rather. I can’t do this alone.”
“Can’t you?” Longbottom looked up when he didn’t get an answer and blinked at the suddenly empty room. He glanced around. “…Malfoy?”
“Upstairs! Be down in half a mo, just grabbing some things.”
Longbottom frowned in confusion. “Grabbing what?” he asked when Draco came stampeding back down the stairs a minute later.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” Draco said, and then he clapped his hands together and looked around. “Okay! Now we just…need to get there.”
“Wait, hold on,” Longbottom said. He held up one hand, the other going to rub at his temple. “Can we pause for a moment? What’s the actual plan here? We can’t just go charging in, wands drawn, without any idea–”
“Isn’t that what Gryffindors normally do? But no, obviously we’re not, because this is going to be a subtle rescue mission. I’d really prefer they didn’t know we were there at all, but I’m sure there are wards on the manor.” Draco rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Once we’re in it shouldn’t take us long. It is my house, I know the layout. I know where the dungeons are, and that’s probably where they’re holding the missing Muggle-borns.”
“…Your house has a dungeon?”
“Potter would use a house elf to get us in.” Draco looked uncertain. “That one would probably work best – he knows the manor, too, but…I don’t know if he’ll respond to me anymore.”
“Are you even talking to me?” Longbottom demanded. “Or do you just enjoy hearing your voice outside your own head?” Draco scowled at him, and Longbottom asked again, “Seriously, a dungeon?”
“Well…it’s a cellar, actually. Nowadays. If you want to get technical.” Longbottom’s jaw dropped a little in disbelief, but Draco didn’t bother to elaborate. Suddenly he brightened. “That elf loves me, though… Yeah, he’ll do. He can get me Dobby – KREACHER!” Draco abruptly bellowed, and Longbottom just about jumped out of his skin. “KREACHER! I know I’m not your master, but for Potter’s sake, I need you!”
He stood expectantly, waiting, and after a moment Longbottom cast a doubtful look around the room. “…I don’t see any–”
“Yes, thank you,” Draco spat. “I have eyes, too, if you hadn’t noticed.”
Longbottom ignored his outburst. “Didn’t you just tell me earlier that you’re not supposed to leave here because you can be tracked? Tell me again why we’re planning to do exactly that?”
“We just are,” Draco said, before he stomped his foot, looking for all the world like he was about to throw a strop. “KREACHER. Come on, you bloody house elf, I need you here! It’s Draco – Draco Malfoy!”
That seemed to do the trick. It took a few more seconds, which Draco figured were just for show, before the old house elf suddenly popped into view.
“Master Malfoy is calling Kreacher?” said the elf, giving a slow blink as he craned his head back to look up at Draco. “Kreacher is always willing to do a Malfoy’s bidding, of course, they’re a good family, the Malfoys – but…” He shuffled his feet, glancing toward Longbottom. “Kreacher is wondering where his Master is.”
“He’s otherwise occupied, at the moment,” Draco said. “But not in danger or anything. I just called you to pass on a message.”
Kreacher gave him a grumpy frown. “Kreacher is not an owl, Master Malfoy.”
“I know, I know. Sorry. But I was in a hurry. Listen, I need you to get Dobby to come here.”
“Dobby?” Kreacher made a noise that sounded suspiciously like an amused snort. “Dobby won’t come. Dobby isn’t being a Malfoy house elf anymore.”
Draco rolled his eyes skyward. “Which is why I need you to get him for me,” he said through clenched teeth. “It’s important, I wouldn’t ask otherwise!”
“Why is you needing Dobby?” Kreacher asked, giving Draco a shrewd look. “What can’t Kreacher do for Master Malfoy?”
“Nothing.” Draco dragged a hand over his face with a sigh. “It involves Malfoy Manor; Dobby knows it better, is all.”
Kreacher stared at him for a moment longer. “Wards?”
“…Yeah.” Draco lowered his hand and met Kreacher’s gaze. “Wards.”
Kreacher nodded once. “Kreacher will be doing his best, then, Master Malfoy,” he said, before disappearing.
“…This is such a bad idea,” Longbottom muttered.
“Shut up,” Draco said offhandedly. “Okay, here’s how it’s going to go. When Dobby shows up – if Dobby shows up, he’ll take down the wards on the manor for us to get in. Er – he’s also going to have to bring us there…I’m not really the best at, um. Apparating.” Longbottom cocked an eyebrow and Draco scowled, his face going pink. “Not a word,” he warned, before continuing, “I don’t know how long we’re going to have. I’m not really entirely sure how this works.” He gestured at the Dark Mark on his arm. “I don’t know if it’s something the Dark Lord will be waiting for or – well, I just don’t know. But there are two of us and the dungeons aren’t far off the main hallway, so you can just make a run for it, grab the kids, and I’ll…I’ll deal with Voldemort.”
There was a long moment of silence, and then Longbottom blinked. “That is a horrible, terrible, awful plan,” he said.
Draco snorted. “It is pretty poor,” he said. “But it’ll be fine. Bloody awful plans seem to work well enough for Potter. And I’ll be able to stall Voldemort. Just stick with Dobby, he’ll get us out. We’ll be back before you know it.”
Longbottom looked as though his head was spinning, but he seemed to have realized that arguing with Draco wasn’t going to do any good. He let his eyes close for a minute and took a deep breath, and when he looked up again there was a resigned expression on his face. “We can’t come back here, remember? I’ll have to take you all to my grandmother’s.”
Draco nodded. “If she doesn’t mind,” he said, as though they were actually going to check with her beforehand. “Where the hell is that elf? We need to get moving!”
A loud crack echoed suddenly throughout the room.
“…They do that on purpose, I swear,” Draco muttered, before plastering a bright smile on his face. “Dobby!”
Dobby whirled around, the stack of hats atop his head tilting to the side precariously. He had an anxious look on his small face, but was clearly trying to appear stern. “Mast–D-Draco Malfoy – sir – Dobby is coming as requested. Kreacher is saying Dobby is needed. But…” The elf looked up at him, eyes narrowed, and he puffed his chest out a bit as he spoke. “Dobby is wanting Draco Malfoy to know that Draco Malfoy is not Dobby’s master anymore. Dobby is a free elf and isn’t going to be taking orders from Draco Malfoy anymore and–” Draco held up a hand, meaning to simply calm Dobby down, but Dobby’s words cut off abruptly as he reared backwards. “Free elf!!” he squealed, stopping just short of covering his head, and Draco quickly lifted his other hand, as well, going for what he hoped was a placating gesture.
“Dobby,” he said gently, insistently, “I’m sorry, look, I’m not – I’m not going to hit you, bloody hell. And I’m not trying to give you any orders, I’ve just got a favor to ask! I promise! You’re the only one who can help us out.”
Dobby peered at him suspiciously. “The only one?” he repeated. “Dobby is willing to be helping Harry Potter’s friends, but – the only one?” His ears perked up a bit. “Draco Malfoy needs Dobby’s help?”
“…Yes,” Draco said tightly, and then he sighed, rolled his eyes, and figured he might as well go for it. “Look, I’m – I’m sorry, okay? For…everything. My family.” He grimaced slightly, like it was paining him to say this, but plowed on regardless. “We shouldn’t have treated you like we did, we were wrong. You’re a free elf and a good friend of Potter’s and – and I really need your help with this one.”
For a moment, Draco wondered if a Basilisk had snuck into the room behind him and petrified the other two, because both Dobby and Longbottom were standing as still as stone and looking at him like he’d donned a Hufflepuff scarf and declared he was switching Houses. It made him scowl and he could feel his face going warm, but before he could say anything Dobby suddenly lurched forward, before abruptly pausing again. Draco had the weird thought that the elf was actually holding himself back from lunging at Draco and wrapping his arms around Draco’s knees.
Instead, Dobby clasped his hands together beneath his chin and gave Draco a watery look. “Master Draco is so grown up!” he said, before a huge smile broke out over his face. “Dobby the free elf has decided that he will help!”
“Brilliant!” Draco said, grinning as well. “Alright, it’ll be like the last time you brought Potter and the others to the manor. Here’s what I need you to do…”
* * *
The Chamber of Secrets hadn’t much changed in the years since Harry had last been there. The biggest difference was the way the huge cavern didn’t seem quite so daunting, now that he’d had a couple growth spurts.
Well, that and the giant snake skeleton that nobody had bothered to remove. That was new.
“Harry, it’s massive,” Hermione said, as she stared up at the large head in awe. “To think you killed it when you were twelve…”
“All in a day’s work,” Harry quipped. He was standing away from what was left of the Basilisk, instead facing the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin.
Ron stepped up beside him. “Sense anything?”
“Not really,” Harry said, giving a slow shake of his head. “Just the weirdness of being back here again.” He crossed his arms, fighting off a shiver as he glanced around the chamber.
“Yeah, I’m with you there,” Ron said. His gaze strayed toward the skeleton and he grimaced. “Blimey. Kind of glad I didn’t make it this far, mate. That thing, and my sister almost gone… I’d have lost it.”
“This is where the first Horcrux was destroyed,” Hermione said. She moved toward the other two, but still seemed distracted by the skeleton and kept glancing back over her shoulder at it.
Harry nodded. “Yeah.”
“With a Basilisk fang.”
“That’s right.” Harry tipped his head to the side a bit. “Why? You don’t think–?”
“Well, it couldn’t hurt,” Hermione said, sweeping an arm out and gesturing to the giant snake. “They’re right there.”
Ron blinked. “Wait, you’re suggesting we take some fangs with us?”
“I think I’d be better off trying to destroy a Horcrux with one of those, is all, rather than using the Killing Curse.” She spun on her heel and marched back toward the Basilisk, pulling her bag in front of her. “If it comes down to it.”
Harry and Ron glanced at each other, and then Ron shrugged. “Well, she’s never led us wrong before,” he said, and Harry grinned.
“Wasn’t going to argue.”
“Are you sure these still have venom in them?” Ron asked Hermione, walking around to the other side of the snake's skull. “It's kind of been awhile, you know.”
“They should.” Hermione opened her bag, dropping one of the fangs inside.
“So testing how sharp the points are by pricking my finger with them would be a bad idea, I'm guessing,” Ron said, as he came back around and handed her another fang. She just gave him a dry, unamused look in response, and he shrugged and grinned.
Harry smiled faintly at their exchange, and then glanced back at the statue of Slytherin. His brow furrowed as he tried once more to see if he could sense anything in the cavern, just in case, but the room remained stubbornly still and unassuming. No bits of Voldemort's soul hanging around here; just the cold, damp air and musty smell Harry remembered from years ago.
He supposed maybe hiding a Horcrux in the Chamber of Secrets would be too obvious at this point. After all, it wasn't exactly a secret anymore, was it? Maybe they would have better luck in the Room of Requirement. Harry could only hope that if Voldemort had chosen that as his hiding place, that it would be in an incarnation of the room they could actually get into – like the Room of Hidden Things, for instance. If he'd asked the room specifically for something else, something they would never be able to guess...
Harry shook the thought from his head.
Best not to even think about that yet.
“Mate, you ready to go?” Ron called over to him. “Or should we look around some more?”
“No, I think we're done here,” Harry said.
Hermione carefully rifled through her bag until she found her enchanted rope. “Check the map, make sure no one's around. If I'm right, they should still be in class. We've probably got about twenty minutes until it's time for them to switch lessons.”
Harry did as told, activating the map and giving it a quick glance over before nodding. “We should be good to go.”
“Ready when you are,” said Ron.
“I'm ready – Mischief Managed!”
* * *
They had Dobby scout ahead to check the wards on Malfoy Manor, and when he popped back into Hermione's living room he had a confused look on his face.
“The wards isn't changed, Master Draco,” he said, tugging nervously on one of his ears. He'd discarded his stack of hats earlier. “They is still the Malfoy wards. Dobby can be getting you in and out easily. Master Draco could be getting himself in easily.”
“Well, that's not suspicious at all,” Longbottom deadpanned, and Draco scowled at him.
“Voldemort might not have thought it necessary to change them,” he said. “It's not like the manor was unprotected, we have very good wards.” He paused. “…When we don't have ex-Malfoy house elves trying to break in, anyway.”
Longbottom eyed him doubtfully. “Yes, I'm sure that's exactly it. It clearly has nothing to do with the fact that we're about to pull a very Harry Potter-like stunt that can only be accomplished with a Malfoy on hand. Because there's no pair around who matches that description. It's obviously not a trap.”
“Well.” Draco had a stubborn look about him. “If it is, they’ll be very surprised, won't they?”
Longbottom sighed and grabbed his bag, slinging the strap over his head so that it laid diagonally across his chest and rested over his shoulder. “Yeah, alright. Ready when you are, then.”
Draco nodded. “Okay.” He glanced around the room a final time, patted down his pockets, and then rolled his shoulders back and lifted his chin a bit. “Okay,” he said again. “Let's go.”
They each put a hand on one of Dobby's shoulders and there was a sharp increase in pressure around them as Hermione's living room twisted out of sight, before the entry room of Malfoy Manor suddenly popped into view.
Thankfully, it was empty.
The three of them stood frozen regardless, eyeing the shadows on the walls warily as if they expected Voldemort to leap straight out of one of them. After a moment of complete silence, Draco released a slow breath.
“Guess no one's home,” he said quietly, staring at the familiar family portraits that lined the high walls around them. None of them said anything, but their weighty stares made Draco feel like they were judging him nonetheless. He frowned and tore his gaze away, letting it land on the Dark Mark on his arm instead. “And this feels alright.”
“Dobby took the wards down so Master Draco's friend can be getting in,” Dobby spoke up. “Should – should they be going back up once Master Draco is going through?”
“No, we'll probably have to make a quick escape,” Draco said. “Best leave them down for now.” He walked over to the excessively grand doors at the opposite end of the room – Malfoys had to make awe-inspiring first impressions, of course – but paused before going through them.
Longbottom trailed after him, eyes darting all around the room as he took everything in. “They weren’t down when we Apparated in?”
“This is where guests come through, so no. Normally a house elf would come let them in from here.” Draco grabbed one of the door handles and pulled it open slowly, wincing when the heavy wood caused the hinges to creak and groan.
But still no one came.
Draco slipped through the doors, waving Longbottom after him. They kept close to the walls as they crept down the hallway, until they came upon a large room that opened to the right. “Sitting room,” he whispered over his shoulder to Longbottom. “My mother used to hold afternoon tea in here.”
Longbottom peered over Draco’s head into the room, his eyes wide. “Blimey,” he said faintly. “Gran has friends over all the time for tea, but not in a room like this.”
“Well, of course not,” Draco said matter-of-factly. “Does anyone? Look at it.”
Once upon a time, it had been decorated entirely in cream colors. They looked more gray to Draco now, no doubt somehow tainted by the presence of Voldemort. The sofas, once plush and comfortable, were dingy and uninviting, and the large floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the walls behind them had been covered with dark drapes that Draco knew didn’t belong to his mother. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.
“Is the…cellar in here?” Longbottom asked.
Draco shook his head and forced himself to turn away from visions of his mother entertaining Mrs. Parkinson in this room, while he and Pansy made nuisances of themselves on the floor. “That’s under the drawing room,” he said. “Just up ahead, through the doors.”
These doors were similar to the ones leading into the entrance hall, and didn’t make any less noise when Draco pulled them open. Yet again, though the sound echoed through the hallway, no one came to investigate what had caused it.
Unlike the sitting room, the drawing room was obviously a room Voldemort still had use for. It was well-kept and clean, not a speck of dirt anywhere to be seen. A magnificent chandelier hung high on the ceiling, and a long table ran down the center of the room beneath it. Draco imagined it was probably were Inner Circle meetings were held. In the middle of the wall across from the table was a large fireplace, where the remains of an earlier fire still burned warm in the grate.
The sight of the embers caused a shiver to run down Draco’s spine.
“…Right, so it’s entirely possible this isn’t going to end well,” Draco said, after taking a cautious look around the room.
Longbottom tensed up beside him. “What? Why? What’s happening, is it your arm, why do you–”
“The fireplace,” Draco said pointedly. “They were just here, and suddenly everyone is gone? Dobby, you’re sure you didn’t see anyone when you scouted ahead?”
“Dobby is sure,” said the elf. He hesitated. “Is Master Draco wanting Dobby to…look around more?”
“No,” Draco replied quickly. “We need you here. Stick with Longbottom, take him down to the dungeon–” Longbottom’s face scrunched up in a weird way, and Draco gave an exasperated sigh accompanied by a roll of his eyes. “Fine, cellar, whatever! There are extra wards down there, it won’t be worth it to try to undo them. Just get whoever’s there, come back up, and we’ll Apparate out from here.”
“And you?” Longbottom asked. “What are you doing?”
Draco’s hand went to his pocket again. “Keeping watch.” He met Longbottom’s eyes. “There’s a trapdoor of sorts behind the table, by the bookcases. Dobby knows the spell to reveal it. Take the staircase under it and hurry, Longbottom, for fuck’s sake. I don’t know how much time we have.”
Longbottom nodded. “Right,” he said, and spun on his heel to head where Draco had directed.
Draco lingered behind, only half listening as Dobby got the trapdoor open and disappeared below with Longbottom. His other senses were all on high alert as he scanned the drawing room, his wand held loosely in his hand, bouncing in time with the nervous twitching of his fingers. He tried to keep his breathing calm, steady, but it was proving surprisingly difficult. The way his heartbeat pounded away in his ears didn’t help any.
Easy in and out mission, right?
What a load of bollocks.
He was probably going to get himself killed, and for what? What if there weren’t even any kidnapped students here? And worse, what if there were, why was he risking his bloody life for people that hadn’t even been worth his attention in the past, what the fuck was he trying to prove–
Sudden voices behind him had Draco spinning around, wand raised to attack, and he let out a breath when he realized they were coming from the trapdoor.
Seconds later, Dean Thomas appeared.
“…Well, shit,” Draco muttered, ignoring the way Thomas’s eyes widened when they landed on him and instead trying to work out why he’d just been engulfed by a crushing sense of disappointment. He’d expected this, after all. He’d known exactly what he was coming here to find, and having the proof right in front of him that his father was still a giant arsehole shouldn’t have been surprising.
What was surprising was how much it hurt.
“Malfoy, what the hell are you doing here?” Thomas asked, as Draco quickly collected himself so he could get back to the task at hand. “Where’s Harry?”
Draco lifted an eyebrow. “He’s already filled his ‘idiots rescued’ quota for this month, I’m afraid. You’ve just got me today.” He paused. “And Longbottom.”
“…Yeah, I’m not even going to ask how that combination happened,” Thomas said faintly.
“Where are the others?” Draco asked. He peered behind Thomas briefly, looking for Longbottom and anyone else, before glancing back at the other boy to make sure he was okay.
Thomas looked tired and more than a little ragged, but he didn’t appear to be injured in any way. Confusion tinted his tone when he spoke. “What others?”
Draco blinked. “The – aren’t there more of you?”
“No,” came Longbottom’s voice, as he turned up on the stairs holding the hand of a pale, dark-haired little girl. She was a tiny thing, and Draco could see her trembling from where he was still standing several meters away. “Unless you have another cellar somewhere in the manor.”
“Only the one,” Draco said. “Who’s she, then?”
“This is Beatrice,” Longbottom said, smiling kindly down at the girl. “Ravenclaw, third year.”
“So she’s the first one who went missing.” Draco looked at Thomas. “You were the second.”
Thomas frowned. “You’re making it sound like you were expecting a lot more people to be here.”
“I believe they were.”
Draco abruptly froze, ice cold fear lancing his spine and cementing his feet to the ground. Thomas’s eyes went impossibly wide, and Beatrice ducked behind Longbottom with a whimper. Draco noticed Dobby was crouched on the step beside Longbottom now, also staring beyond Draco’s shoulder with poorly concealed panic.
For a moment there was nothing he could do, no matter how much he willed his body to move. He couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, he could only be grateful he hadn’t dropped his wand in shock. Luckily he could still feel it clutched in his fist.
“They’re right to think so, of course,” Voldemort continued, far too casually. “The mistake was assuming all the Mudbloods would be in one place.”
With monumental effort, Draco managed to get his mouth moving again. “Go,” he croaked, more of a guttural gasp than an actual distinct word. “Now. Dobby!”
“No!” Longbottom hissed, eyes darting back and forth between Draco and Voldemort. “Malfoy–” He made a jerky gesture with his hand, clearly signaling for Draco to come with them, but Draco knew he’d never get there in time. He hadn’t moved close enough, still hovering by the fireplace while the others were gathered around the trapdoor.
“Draco,” Voldemort said, his voice low. “I don’t appreciate being ignored.”
“Malfoy…” Thomas murmured, slinking back until he was shoulder to shoulder with Longbottom. “Come on, just. Come on.”
“It would be in your best interest to disregard that,” Voldemort said. “Easy though it might have been to get in, you’ll find leaving will be…different.”
Draco swore. “Different how?” he asked tightly, still refusing to face the Dark Lord behind him. His free hand inched toward his pocket while his eyes caught Dobby’s, trying to question him through staring alone. Somehow Dobby seemed to understand, and his gaze went unfocused for a few seconds before sharpening again, glinting with something like relief. He gave Draco a tiny nod.
More wards, then. Likely put up whenever Voldemort had appeared, and how he’d managed to do so as quietly as he had, Draco had no idea.
Wards…but wards that Dobby would be able to get through.
“That’s not your concern,” said Voldemort.
Draco swung around, his arm sweeping out in front of him and his wand held high. “I rather think it is.”
Voldemort barely spared Draco a glance, merely casting a bored look on the group behind him. “Where’s Potter? Not afraid to face me, is he?”
“Potter?” Draco faltered slightly, his wand dropping a bit, before he recovered and forced himself to smirk. “Not here, unfortunately.”
Now Voldemort did look at Draco, and Draco would have enjoyed the slight widening of his red eyes if they didn’t immediately narrow again in a dangerous way. “Not here?” he repeated, his voice a low hiss. “What do you mean, not here?”
“You weren’t expecting him, were you?” Draco asked, injecting as much smugness into his voice as he could. He slid his free hand into his pocket and let his smirk widen, stalling. Trying to give Dobby the time he needed. “I’m sorry, was this some kind of…trap? Did we ruin it?”
Voldemort snarled, his wand coming up, and Draco quickly realized that was all the time Dobby was going to get. He swiftly withdrew his hand from his pocket and threw a familiar gold locket to the floor. Jabbing his wand at it, he bellowed, “AVADA KEDAVRA!”
Salazar Slytherin’s locket exploded with an earsplitting screech, a black cloud erupting from it the same way it had the other Horcruxes, and pain shot fiercely through Draco’s arm and sent him crashing to his knees. He screamed, unable to help himself, his wand clattering away somewhere to his right. Voldemort crumpled as well, his voice blending with Draco’s in a furious howl.
Still shuddering and clutching at his arm where the Dark Mark was, Draco managed to glance back over his shoulder and meet Dobby’s eyes again. “GO,” he growled through clenched teeth, and Dobby, after half a second’s worth of hesitation, did as told.
Draco saw Longbottom’s eyes widen in alarm before they disappeared, his mouth opening and his hand coming partway up in front of him, reaching out – but then they were gone.
Good, Draco thought, looking back at Voldemort. The pain was starting to fade, but his arm still throbbed. They got away. That’s…good. Brilliant. Now what, genius?
Suddenly, there was a loud POP (They came back for me? were Draco’s first bemused thoughts. Idiots! Bloody fucking GRYFFINDORS–) and then Bellatrix was crouching by her Master’s side, her own face pinched in discomfort.
“…Damn,” Draco muttered under his breath. He struggled to stand up.
“My Lord, are you okay?” Bellatrix asked fervently, resting a hand on Voldemort’s arm. “My Lord–”
Voldemort threw her off without a word, uncaring that she collapsed to the floor beside him. Thoroughly infuriated now, he got to his feet and somehow managed to gracefully straighten to his full height and then some, it seemed, until he towered over Draco, radiating impending doom like some kind of god of death. Draco did his best to steady himself, to get out of the awkward half-crouch he was still in, but Voldemort didn’t give him the chance.
“Crucio,” Voldemort hissed, and Draco fell to the floor again and screamed.
Seconds passed – or minutes, maybe hours even, Draco couldn’t tell. He was vaguely aware of Bellatrix standing again, coming up behind Voldemort and practically leaning against his back to watch eagerly over his shoulder as he tortured Draco.
Eventually, Voldemort lifted the curse and watched Draco with eyes that had never looked so much like blood before. “Now. Where is Potter?”
“I – I don’t know,” Draco croaked in between panting breaths. He curled up on his side and tried to focus on anything other than the sharp spikes of pain that still pulsed throughout his entire body.
“Don’t lie to me, boy,” Voldemort warned, and Draco could feel him pushing against the barriers in his mind, bypassing them easily and trying to dig further. He made no effort to hide his presence, and Draco desperately tried to Occlude, to keep him out, to keep him away from the important things. Voldemort might have been the best Legilimens there was, but that didn’t mean Draco was just going to hand over the information he wanted without putting up a fight. “I said, where. Is. POTTER?!”
“I don’t KNOW,” Draco shouted again, squeezing his eyes shut. “Not here, not coming. It didn’t work, you’re not going to get him, you fucking arsehole, he’s going to KILL you in the end. He’s going to win–”
“CRUCIO!” Voldemort’s wand slashed the air viciously, and Draco knew he was going to die, this was it, he couldn’t – focusing was impossible – he couldn’t think through the pain, couldn’t keep his shields up – pain, hurt, agony, he was writhing around now, couldn’t – and abruptly, unable to withstand him any longer, Draco’s Occlumency failed and he felt Voldemort invade his mind.
Then, in the next second, a red spell went hurdling across the room over Draco’s body and he found he could breathe again. He forced his eyes open, looking around wildly, but it wasn’t until he craned his head backwards that he saw Longbottom standing by the trapdoor again, Dobby hiding behind his legs. Longbottom was visibly trembling, but he held his wand out in front of him nonetheless.
“What,” Draco gasped. “What–”
“Let him go,” Longbottom said, his voice only cracking once as he spoke. He swallowed, glancing briefly down at Draco before looking back at Voldemort. “Let him go now.”
Whatever little bit had remained of Voldemort’s calm, cool façade was entirely gone now. He looked furious. “How,” he growled. “Time and again you manage to get through my wards and destroy the spells I’ve put in place to prevent exactly this, spells that no wizard should be able to break through. You lot, you’re barely of age! And yet constantly you–” He broke off, staring in Longbottom’s direction, and then a cruel smirk slowly uncurled on his face. “Ah,” he murmured. “Of course. It’s so simple, something no respectable wizard would think of. But then, you’ve got Mudbloods in your mix. Respectable isn’t a trait you’re familiar with.”
“My Lord,” Bellatrix whispered, her eyes alight with glee as she, too, stared at Longbottom. “That’s the Longbottom boy. My Lord, please, let me have him. I’ll deal with him for you, you needn’t be troubled.”
Voldemort eyed Longbottom for a moment longer, and then seemed to dismiss him entirely. “Kill him,” he said, the calm mask falling over his face again. Only his eyes continued to glitter angrily as he turned back to Draco. “The elf, too.”
Bellatrix gave a shark-like grin and stepped toward Longbottom. “I never did get to find out if you’d last as long as your parents,” she said, fingers sliding up and down her wand and a perverse look of eager anticipation on her face. “My guess is you won’t. You don’t look like you’ve got the stomach for it. I bet you break in under a minute.”
“No.” Draco rolled over onto his hands and knees, struggling to push himself up. “Leave him alone. What the hell are you doing back here, Longbottom, you were supposed to go the fuck away.”
Longbottom actually snorted, watching warily as Bellatrix moved ever closer. “And leave you here? Harry’d kill me himself. Don’t fancy disappointing him, mate.”
“You bloody idiot–ahhh!” Sudden pressure against Draco’s back forced him onto his stomach, and he scowled up at Voldemort as the Dark Lord moved into his field of vision, wand pointed down at him.
“I’m not done with you,” he said, and then Draco found himself struggling to keep Voldemort out of his head yet again.
Wand, thought Draco desperately. Where is my fucking wand?!
“Malfoy!” Longbottom cried, but he was forced to prepare to defend against Bellatrix as she slid into a dueling position in front of him.
“En garde,” she said silkily, and then she was throwing a barrage of spells at Longbottom that Draco couldn’t even begin to identify, and the most Longbottom could do was throw up protective shields against them. Dobby seemed to have vanished for the moment – or at least, Draco couldn’t see him. He swept him arm out to the side, scrabbling for his wand, no idea where it had gone and all too aware that he probably looked ridiculous, pinned on his stomach as he was.
“Hogwarts,” Voldemort’s voice came suddenly, softly. “Looking for a Horcrux that he has no hope of ever finding.”
Dread exploded in Draco’s gut, swiftly filling him from head to toe, and he choked back the furious tears that burned at the corners of his eyes.
Voldemort’s lips curled upwards, baring his teeth in a self-satisfied, awful grin. “And no one to warn him I’m coming.”
Across from them, Longbottom made an attempt to go on the offensive, firing spells back at Bellatrix about half as often as he had to defend against her. He seemed to be getting the hang of it, though, which she clearly wasn’t expecting, and even managed to get one curse past her shield.
Purple magic sliced her arm, cutting into the black sleeve of her robe and nicking her skin enough to cause her to hiss. She glanced down, eyeing the thin line of blood that trickled from the wound. “Look at wee little Long-baby,” she said in a mocking tone, sneering at Longbottom. “Trying to step into his big-boy britches and play with the adults.”
“Shut your mouth,” Longbottom said, drawing himself up to his full height. “Just shut your bloody mouth, Lestrange. You don’t scare me.” He reached into the bag that he was still carrying with him – the one he had stuffed the Sorting Hat into earlier.
And from within it he pulled out the Sword of Gryffindor.
Bellatrix’s jaw dropped. “Where did you – how did you – My Lord!” she cried. “My Lord, he’s got the sword!”
“What?” Voldemort snapped, his concentration on Draco breaking as he turned to Bellatrix.
“The sword!” Bellatrix said again, pointing. “The one you–”
“Get it back, you fool!” Voldemort shouted. Draco took advantage of his distraction, dragging himself across the floor. He could see it now, there, under one of the chairs at the table just out of his reach. His wand!
“But how did he–?”
“Ask questions later, Bellatrix, just GET IT BACK.” With an abbreviated howl of rage, Voldemort whipped back around, slashing at the air with his wand and sending an invisible wave rushing at the long table and the chairs surrounding it. They were instantly upended, flying back and crashing into the far wall with a deafening sound. Draco went with them, tumbling through the air and smacking into the underside of the table before collapsing to the ground in a heap.
But he had his wand clenched in his fist.
Voldemort’s robes billowed in a nonexistent wind as he strode forward, glaring at Draco. “And you,” he said in a low, angry tone. “You’re of no more use to me, I’m afraid. No longer shall you thwart my plans!”
Longbottom flinched against the attack on the table, holding the sword steady in one hand, his wand in the other. He spared Draco a glance, but had no time to do anything else as Bellatrix squared her shoulders and faced him again. She frowned, eyeing the sword for a moment, before allowing a horrible sounding giggle to bubble up from her throat. “Do you mean to fight me like a Muggle, boy? Do you even know how to use that sword?”
“Just have to run it through the ugliest person in the room,” Longbottom said. He gestured toward Voldemort, who was quickly bearing down on Draco. “He’s a close second, but I think the winner is obvious.”
Bellatrix gave an outraged squawk, her hand tightening around her wand. “You think you’re so clever,” she spat. “I’d say it’s been fun playing with you, but really it’s just been disappointing. Watching your parents suffer was just so much more entertaining, you see.” She raised her hand. “Unfortunately, we’ve no time for that today. I’ll be sure to drop by St. Mungo’s and tell dear mummy and daddy you said goodbye.”
She kept her wand pointed straight at him. Longbottom stood his ground, bracing himself. He shifted the sword in front of him.
“Avada Kedavra,” Bellatrix hissed, and ugly green burst from the tip of her wand as the curse shot straight at Longbottom.
“Longbottom!” Draco screamed, even as Voldemort trained his own wand on him. He ignored him, couldn’t help it, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Longbottom–
The Killing Curse hit the sword, and a flash of greenish light filled the room.
It temporarily blinded Draco, and even Voldemort had to bring a hand up to shield his eyes. Everything ground to a halt, silence filling the air, and then there was a thumping sound that could only be a body hitting the ground.
Draco’s heart pounded. The light faded away, and it took a second for his eyes to adjust. He looked wildly across the room, trying to find Longbottom, where was he, how was he going to tell Harry–?
Then Voldemort let out a roar that jolted Draco right down to his bones, and he realized that Longbottom hadn’t hit the ground. That he was, in fact, still standing.
“The – the sword,” Longbottom stuttered. “The curse, it – it reflected off the sword.” He looked shocked. Draco couldn’t blame him. He couldn’t stop staring at the lifeless body of his aunt, either.
He was forced to look away when Voldemort jabbed his wand in Draco’s face again, though. “Bellatrix was my most loyal follower,” he said, sneering, and Draco seized up in fear. “A trait you don’t even remotely share. At least there’s one way you can follow in her footsteps. Avada Keda–”
“YOU SHALL NOT HARM MASTER DRACO,” Dobby cried suddenly, dropping from the chandelier above to shield Draco. He thrust his arms out and blasted Voldemort with magic that threw him backwards into the opposite wall. “Dobby will be getting you out, Master Draco, don’t worry – Master Neville! Hurry, Dobby can be getting you home!”
Longbottom didn’t need to be told twice. He dashed across the room, stumbling a bit, trying to reach them in time.
But Voldemort was on his feet again in an instant. “I WILL NOT BE BESTED BY A HOUSE ELF!” he bellowed, slashing the air in front of him. “Your petty heroics end here – DIE!” His wand made a slicing cut again, twice, three more times, sending curse after curse, and Dobby slid in front of Draco and spread his arms wide.
“No!” Draco gasped, as Dobby’s protective spells quickly fell under the onslaught of Voldemort’s attack. One caught him in the torso, sending him flying back into Draco’s chest. “No, Dobby!” Longbottom crashed into his side, throwing up another shield, and why hadn’t Draco thought to do that? “Dobby. Dobby,” Draco said again, shaking the tiny body that he now had cradled in his arms. “Shit. Shit. Longbottom, we have to – we’re stuck, how are we going to get out now? Dobby, come on.” His eyes burned, felt wet even, but he ignored it.
“No,” Longbottom said grimly, wrapping his hand around Draco’s arm. “We’re not stuck. Dobby kept the wards down for us, You-Know-Who underestimated him. He didn’t think to check again.”
And with that, the room spun around them and disappeared, taking the sound of Voldemort’s enraged howls with it.
* * *
Harry was staring at something in his hands, almost unable to believe he’d managed to find it again. Somehow, he’d felt instantly drawn to it when they’d first entered the Room of Requirement – or the Room of Hidden Things, rather.
For whatever reason, he knew it would be a good idea to have it again.
His Potions textbook from sixth year.
It didn’t look any worse for wear. He ran his fingers over the cover, and then opened the book to flip through the first few pages.
He would have to tell Hermione he had it, of course. She’d probably berate him for going to get it while he was supposed to be looking for a Horcrux, and then berate him some more for taking it at all, but it’d be worth it. He’d never really wanted to get rid of it in the first place. Snape definitely had some useful tips in here, and maybe he’d even have something that could help–
Without any warning, Harry’s scar exploded.
He gasped, falling against a pile of discarded brooms as pain throbbed in his forehead. The resulting crash brought Ron and Hermione running – Ron reached him first, but he could hear Hermione calling out to them, though she sounded far away, and almost as though she was underwater.
“Harry!” Ron said insistently, his hands on Harry’s shoulders. His face slowly swam into focus, and Harry realized Ron had actually called his name more than once. “Mate, what’s wrong? What’s happening? Is it Voldemort? Harry!”
Harry pushed Ron away, trying to straighten himself out, trying to think. There was only one reason his scar ever felt like this. Only one thing that caused that kind of abrupt agony.
“Shit,” Harry said breathlessly. He pushed his hand back from his forehead into his hair, gripping tight. It felt like the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. He couldn’t hear a thing Ron and Hermione were saying anymore and therefore completely ignored their worried voices. There was just one thing he could focus on, the only thought currently playing on repeat in his mind:
Fuck, Draco, what have you done?